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Full text of "My country and my people"

LITERARY    LIFE                           2O7
other words of the same sound. What happened then was that there was a great deal of confusion, and before the script was more or less fixed in the Han Dynasty, we had a great number of such "borrowed*3 words indicating different things. Necessity forced the Chinese to add a sign (called "radical") to indicate the class of ideas which this particular pao was intended to refer to.
The use of phonetic symbols was not too exact, and hence we have the following words, pronounced pao or p'ao in different tones in modern Chinese, aU written with the original (package"-sign ( g[), but each taking a class-sign or radical, as in: Jfi{fittffi%iGliftttifil ^ ft) fi 1 Thus pao plus a "hand51 radical means to cany, plus a "foot" means to run, plus "clothes'5 means a gown,, plus an "eat" means well-filkdinstomach, plus "water" means ^bubble, plus "fire" means firecrackers, plus a "fish" means the name of a fish, plus "flesh" means the womb, plus "stone" means a cannon, plus "mouth" means to roar, plus "grass" means a fower bud, plus "rain" means kail, plus a "knife" means to scrape. This was the adjustment to solve the problem of homonyms.
But suppose the problem was not homonyms, suppose the Chinese language had words like the English scraped, scratched, and scalpel, or suppose the English people started out with a basic phonetic picture for sc-a-p, they would have been forced equally by necessity to distinguish between the sounds cape and scape, or between scape and scrape, or between scrape and scraped, or between scrape and scratch, and the result could not have been anything except an alphabet with signs to denote s, r, ed(f), p, ch, etc. Had the Chinese done this they too would have had an alphabet, and consequently have had a more widespread literacy.
Given, therefore, the monosyllabic character of the Chinese language, it was almost inevitable that pictorial characters were used. This fact alone has profoundly changed the character and position of learning in China. By their very nature the Chinese characters are not subject to changes in the spoken tongue* The same symbol could be read in different ways in different dialects or even languages, as the sign of the Christian cross could be pronounced cross in English and croix in French.